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A picture is worth a thousand words

By enterfornone in MLP
Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 11:56:16 AM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)

I received this image in the mail a few minutes ago. An image of the earth at night. Makes for an interesting lesson on geography, population density and technology.

The first thing I do when I see a photo from space is look for my own country. As I would have expected, in Australia the lights are located at the major population centres. It's pretty easy to pick Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.

In contrast, the eastern side of the USA is covered fairly uniformly, it becomes somewhat sparser as you move west, with things picking up over the major west coast cities.

For some reason India surprised me. I guess my picture of India is little third world villages without power. However India is quite well lit up.

What other insights can you draw from this photo?


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A picture is worth a thousand words | 47 comments (43 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
This is incredibly cool... (2.00 / 1) (#2)
by ZanThrax on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 09:39:19 AM EST

and I can even find my city on it. (Edmonton) Winninpeg's really bright for some reason too...

Before flying off the handle over the suggestion that your a cocksucker, be sure that you do not, in fact, have a cock in your mouth.

Anyone with good art program skills (4.00 / 1) (#3)
by ZanThrax on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 09:41:34 AM EST

care to try messing around with filters to isolate the brightest centers to match to cities? The largest centers stand out quite nicely from their immediate surroundings...

Before flying off the handle over the suggestion that your a cocksucker, be sure that you do not, in fact, have a cock in your mouth.
[ Parent ]

Look north... (none / 0) (#9)
by Spendocrat on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 10:41:13 AM EST

really far north.. I'm pretty sure that's Alert way up there.

I don't know what that means though... is this picture very very acurate, or does Alert just have a tonne of bright military lights?

[ Parent ]

Accurate I think (none / 0) (#47)
by ZanThrax on Sun Dec 17, 2000 at 05:46:54 PM EST

I mean, I can pick out Rocky Mountain House, and that's only around 10,000 people or so, and surrounded by other light sources...

Before flying off the handle over the suggestion that your a cocksucker, be sure that you do not, in fact, have a cock in your mouth.
[ Parent ]

The cool thing... (4.66 / 3) (#5)
by daystar on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 09:51:08 AM EST

.. is next to japan. On the left... down a little... see that blob there? THat's not land. THat's the japanese squid fishing fleet! I guess they use light to attract the squid. Neat!

I have a poster on my wall of this. It's not as clear a picture, though.

There is no God, and I am his prophet.
beautiful (4.00 / 2) (#6)
by greentea on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 10:10:31 AM EST

this is a beautiful picture
It's eerily organic almost. Like some sort of organism creeping across the landmass. and there's a couple of dots in the oceans...
question : aren't you supposed to be able to see the great wall of China from space? I can't find it.
maybe not at night...
It's nice to look at maps without political borders, though
[jwg] I don't want it, I just need it
Sweet (none / 0) (#8)
by Aztech on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 10:38:33 AM EST

It's amazing how Hong Kong habour and island are much brighter than surronding areas... brighter == richer I guess.

[ Parent ]
Sure, it's beautiful. (2.00 / 1) (#27)
by stinkwrinkle on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 06:50:39 PM EST

It's nice to look at maps without political borders, though

You prefer economic borders, which is basically what we're seeing here?

[ Parent ]
I think I forgot to turn out the light in my room! (2.00 / 1) (#7)
by Dries on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 10:11:16 AM EST

Oops! I think I forgot to turn out the light in my room!

I have only a quick blurb to say: Europe is clearly lit up densly and seems to be covered uniformly. Of course, this comes not a suprise for me. ;)

-- Dries
-- Dries

Whoa! (2.33 / 6) (#12)
by the Epopt on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 11:11:24 AM EST

They've got cities in Australia!
Most people who need to be shot need to be shot soon and a lot.
Very few people need to be shot later or just a little.

I mean, other than ... (2.60 / 5) (#13)
by the Epopt on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 11:15:49 AM EST

I mean other than Cindy, or whatever the name of that place was where they had the Olympics....
Most people who need to be shot need to be shot soon and a lot.
Very few people need to be shot later or just a little.

[ Parent ]
Errr? (4.00 / 1) (#15)
by Aztech on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 11:34:18 AM EST

Err... you mean Sydney? Please tell me you're joking.

I can't work out if you're a comedian or actually dumb ;)


[ Parent ]
get out of my bait shop ya flaming mongrel! (4.00 / 1) (#41)
by badge on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 02:28:22 AM EST

Aztech, I think you were just scared by a bunyip. Chuck a sack of Patterson's curse in the billabong - that should do the trick.

I must say that people from the US are getting educated a little more about Australia these days. I don't know how many times I discussed the Australian episode of the Simpsons with American tourists in Europe.


[ Parent ]
The Boot (none / 0) (#44)
by Aztech on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 06:38:51 AM EST

They seriously don't have "the boot" as corporal punishment in Australia do they? I've heard the phrase "they've give him the boot" when somebody gets sacked, I don't know where it came from though... does this explain it?

To be honest I thought that episode was a conspiracy of sorts, definitely some misplaced patriotism... Murdock owns the Fox network right? Judging from that episode (i.e. insinuating that Australia isn't 'free'), is he pushing some republican perspective? Or am I reading too much into this?


[ Parent ]
das boot (none / 0) (#46)
by badge on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 04:06:49 AM EST

They only give the boot when someone's a real wanker. Y'know... the sort of person that wouldn't know a numbat from a wombat. Ahh I could go on and on but the truth of the matter is that there is no formal punishment known as "the boot". The phrase "give it/him/her the boot" means to get rid of the object in question and probably has it's roots in football (Australian rules football).

I'm not sure I agree about Murdoch pushing a subliminal republican perspective on viewers of the Simpsons. I actually interpreted it as more of a dig at the way the US acts in foriegn countries - making the toilet flush the proper way; "don't tread on me" painted on bart's arse - all those gags. There has to be a reference to that [American] kid in Singapore (?) several years ago who went on a vandalism spree and then avoided the usual legal punishment of caning because the US government stepped in. In fact I'm sure this is what the episode was referring to.

There is no denying our colonial history however; Australia's head of state is still the Queen of England, so of course that should be ridiculed and laughed at. Then again, we're thinking with our heads and not with our shootin' irons y'hear? So of course it's going to take time. And hopefully we won't put any rights into our constitution that we regret when the dust settles.


[ Parent ]
Comparisons to the Net (3.00 / 2) (#14)
by Aztech on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 11:26:51 AM EST

Anyone know of some good urls illustrating the Internet's typology? It would be good to overlay this on the picture... I think it's obviously to the outcome though, the net's not really that global when you think about it, the potential is certainly there though.

The 2 Koreas (none / 0) (#39)
by turtleshadow on Sun Dec 10, 2000 at 10:41:33 PM EST

There is very striking and important differences between the 2 Koreas. There is definately a defining DMZ of where the technology is and more importantly where it _isnt_.
With South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, winning the Nobel Peace Prize perhaps the dark ages for North Korea are over.
It is remarkable long standing political differences are so apparently shown by this map.

[ Parent ]
Light Pollution (4.50 / 4) (#16)
by Global-Lightning on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 11:35:02 AM EST

That picture's beauty underscores an ugly fact. As the world's population expands, ever growing light and power consumption lights up the night sky. The result is that most of the humanity can no longer see stars dimmer that magnatude 3, in many area mag 2 stars are starting to get wiped out. To continue their work, professional and amatuer astronomers are having to go further out to find "dark sky country".
One of the most beautiful things you'll ever see is a sky full of stars on a pitch blank moonless night far from human interference. The NASA picture is as tragic as it is awesome.

More information on the light pollution problem can be found at Sky & Telescope

well, yeah, but.... (2.75 / 4) (#17)
by daystar on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 11:49:25 AM EST

... the quality of astronomy from earth keeps increasing.

Light pollution takes astronomy out of the hands of amateur astronomers. That's too bad, but it's not all THAT bad. You could just as well complain that a modern OS was too complex for casual users to fully understand, and you'd be RIGHT, but I don't think it's a bad thing.

There is no God, and I am his prophet.
[ Parent ]
Astronomy Requires Amateurs: Light pollution = Bad (5.00 / 1) (#21)
by jesterzog on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 03:21:13 PM EST

To answer your question, astronomy has a seriously major amount of data coming from amateur astronomers. Obvious things like comet and asteroid sightings and tracking are only the start of it. Without amateurs, there wouldn't be anywhere near the amount of observational data available for professionals to use. Also, a lot of professionals became interested through amateur astronomy, and much of the funding for the professional side is an indirect result of amateur astronomy. Without it, astronomy would be dead and we'd be forever restricted to only knowing Earth.

Besides that though, I'm going to borrow a gem of a quote I found at the website of the New England Light Pollution Advisory Group:

Imagine children growing up without being allowed to see trees or birds (or any other aspect of nature): now, how is this any different from preventing our children from seeing the stars?! But by our thoughtless erection of outdoor lights everywhere --- without consideration of glare and light trespass, without consideration of safety, without consideration of the right to privacy, and without consideration of the energy waste and the waste of taxpayer dollars --- we are making it so that a very small percentage of children are able to grow up in the world today with the ability to see and ponder the wonders of our beautiful starry night sky. Indeed, after a full century now of outdoor electrical lighting, one must wonder what a lot of the lighting manufacturers and installers were thinking when they put up such glary monstrosities as now permeate our world. And there is real overkill in the shear numbers of outdoor lights now in existence! Far fewer outdoor lights are needed than are now lit every night, particularly over streets, highways, and parking lots.

I think it'd be very difficult to say it better than that. A night sky away from a city is a truly beautiful sight, one which many people have never known and many never will know because they're too busy being worried about everyday life and being denied the ability to see it by their surroundings.

jesterzog Fight the light

[ Parent ]
We should care. Do we? (4.50 / 2) (#18)
by squigly on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 01:07:52 PM EST

The problem is, given a choice between being able to see at night, and enhancing our knowledge about a branch of science that doesn't directly affect us, most people are going to go for being able to see.

What concerns me more is the terrible waste of energy. Putting a reflector on top of the lights would improve their lighting ability, and reduce the light pollution. Really we need a way to solve this that benefits the people causing the problem.

People who sig other people have nothing intelligent to say for themselves - anonimouse
[ Parent ]
International Dark Sky Association (4.00 / 1) (#20)
by jesterzog on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 03:05:57 PM EST

Thanks for pointing this out. The whole issue is worth a story in itself some time in the future, IMHO. Being an amateur astronomer I'm ironically lucky to live directly surrounded by only about 100,000 people, but the light pollution and general ignorance of people is just getting more and more frustrating.

I'd also like to call attention to the International Dark-Sky Association, whose aim it is to make people aware of this. Being a global thing, it's more aimed at helping people inform other people than doing it directly, but it's a good starting point.

jesterzog Fight the light

[ Parent ]
Think of the watsed money (none / 0) (#37)
by simdan on Sun Dec 10, 2000 at 08:54:22 PM EST

Just think of the wasted money on the wasted power........... Wow :)

[ Parent ]
Question (4.00 / 1) (#19)
by rip on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 02:35:23 PM EST

How is it possible? It can not be midnight in the same time in Tokyo and Washington?

How DID they do it? (none / 0) (#22)
by kbob on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 04:13:57 PM EST

Not only that, but where was the camera, to be directly above every point on the globe? (-:


[ Parent ]

Re: How DID they do it? (none / 0) (#26)
by IndyZ on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 06:13:09 PM EST

I have a feeling it is a composite. That is also how they take those pictures of the world where it is always high noon.


[ Parent ]

Think about it (3.00 / 1) (#28)
by Aztech on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 09:27:54 PM EST

The satellites that take these pictures are at very close proximity to the earth, only around 800km in space, that's why they can pickup such fine detail. The image is built up from multipule scans take from many birds over a long period to form a patchwork, it's not some big camera in space that took a whole snapshot... which makes sense really because the Earth's not flat!

Quote from the page "The above image is actually a composite of hundreds of pictures made by the orbiting DMSP satellites."

[ Parent ]
DMSP satelites, that's how! (4.50 / 2) (#31)
by paul on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 10:47:07 PM EST

Well, I looked through the archives of Astronomy Picture of the Day and found the caption for the image:
(paraphrased and summarized)The image is in fact a composite of hundreds of others, done by the Defense Meteorological Satellites Program (DMSP) satelites. (Here is the official DMSP page.) EarthObservatory's Newsroom has a little write up about this image as well.

----------Differential Manchester?
[ Parent ]

Florida the brightest spot on the map. (none / 0) (#23)
by mami on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 04:14:25 PM EST

May be I need glasses, but don't you all think that Florida is the brightest place on the map ? At least something illuminating has come out of the election mess. 8-)

Nah, it's BaWash (none / 0) (#45)
by Karmakaze on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 09:20:00 AM EST

The Boston-NewYorkCity-WashingtonDC strip is actually a little brighter, it just doesn't have dark ocean around it setting it off.
[ Parent ]
Cool! (none / 0) (#24)
by aphrael on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 06:11:31 PM EST

You've given me a new desktop background image. Thank you :)

Predictably, most of the lights in Canada are near the US border; Europe gets less dense the further east you go until it trails out in the Urals somewhere, with most of Russia empty; and there's little light at all in Africa.

It's a shame (none / 0) (#25)
by aphrael on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 06:12:52 PM EST

they didn't take the images for this during one of California's rolling power outages. :)

Korea (1.00 / 1) (#29)
by antizeus on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 09:56:03 PM EST

Excellent image, thanks for propagating it.

One of the things that struck me most was the difference between the two Koreas.

India (none / 0) (#30)
by emanuelb on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 10:07:26 PM EST

I always love it when these types of pictures don't correspond with people's ideas of India. To give you some idea, people refer to Pondicherry as a "small town". Pondicherry has a population of over 600,000! Cities this size are all over the place, and there are a lot that are larger. Certainly the cities are different from "western" cities, and a lot of people don't have the same standard of living as "we" do, but very far from "little third world villages without power." If you compare it with, say, Canada (including the parts not within 100km of the U.S.A), India is a very developed country.

Hmmp! (4.00 / 1) (#32)
by Dacta on Sun Dec 10, 2000 at 01:08:04 AM EST

So Adelaide doens't count as a major Australian city now? We've got (roughly) the same population as Perth, you know! *S*

Also, note how dim the lights are in India? Compare cities like Muubi (sp?) and Cheni (again, I can't spell their new names) to cities with equivelant population and density. There should be a rating: Candle Power per person, which would be a good way to measure the wealt distribution of a city, I think.

Australian cities (none / 0) (#40)
by Chuq on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 01:20:39 AM EST

Now you know how Hobart/Canberra feel - being #6 and #7 when everyone is talking about the "big 5"! ;) Ok, so they're a hell of a lot smaller, but still..

For some reason Perth seems a lot more clearly defined than Adelaide on the map. It is interesting that even places on (say) the west coast of Tasmania are faintly visible, even though they have a population of < 20,000 (I think). Alice Springs and Uluru, with similar small populations, are also both clearly visible!

[ Parent ]
Notice how... (none / 0) (#33)
by azaidi on Sun Dec 10, 2000 at 01:38:05 AM EST

Notice how lights are concentrated around rivers (spot the Nile/Indus) and along what I suppose are roads in the middle of nowhere (Check out the former USSR).

The most well defined country seems to be Japan, with India coming in after that.

That dark bit on the upper left of India is a desert (Thar). The bright spot just to the right is Delhi and the really dark depression to it's right is Nepal. The lights on the entire upper east bit border the Himalayas and beyond that we have Tibet (and I'm betting that lonely light in Tibet, close to the Indian border, is Lhasa). I think you can also just make out Leh in Ladhakh, but I can't be sure.

A little distance to the south of the dark desert bit is Bombay (Mumbai). You can also make out Madras and Calcutta if you try hard enough and some of the state capitals are visible as well.

Enough Geo for now...

Israel and the Middle East (none / 0) (#34)
by moshez on Sun Dec 10, 2000 at 03:17:58 AM EST

Have a look at Israel (more or less, the eastern line delimiting the mediterenian). See how brightly it is lit up compared to the rest of the immediate surrounding.

[T]he k5 troll HOWTO has been updated ... This update is dedicated to moshez, and other bitter anti-trolls.
Egypt and nile. (none / 0) (#35)
by ooch on Sun Dec 10, 2000 at 09:30:38 AM EST

I wondered a little about why the nile was so lit up, but then I realised that the Egyptians have build the Aswan dam there, so everybody can enjoy cheap electricity. I am not sure if that is it, anybody got some suggestions? I find it kind of curious.

It's a dry region (none / 0) (#36)
by simdan on Sun Dec 10, 2000 at 08:48:32 PM EST

And the Nile is one of the few sources of water.

[ Parent ]
thus? (none / 0) (#42)
by ooch on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 10:36:28 AM EST

Why would there be more lights along the Nile, if that is the only water in the surroundings? I asked some people today at school, and my geography teacher agreed with me that it might be because of that dam the egyptians build to get cheap electricity. Ohwell, perhaps we'll never now...

[ Parent ]
It's where nearly everyone lives. (none / 0) (#43)
by static on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 07:09:53 PM EST

The lightmap of Egypt maps closely to the population density, which should be no surprise. The rainfall map is a tiny little band on the Mediterranean coast. :-)


[ Parent ]

If you look carefully you can see the land..... (none / 0) (#38)
by simdan on Sun Dec 10, 2000 at 09:01:32 PM EST

.... as a dark blue. Turn off all other light sources in the room your computer is in, then it shows up a lot better.

A picture is worth a thousand words | 47 comments (43 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
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